Skip to content

Podcast: KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ Opioids, EpiPens And Health Funding

The Senate is still working, well into August – something it hasn’t done in years — and it’s debating the funding bill for the Department of Health and Human Services.

There is a back-to-school shortage of EpiPens, needed by people with severe allergies to treat potentially life-threatening reactions, and the Food and Drug Administration is weighing in. And “reinsurance” is back in the picture. The Trump administration has granted permission for New Jersey and Maryland to create such programs aimed at helping bring down premiums in the individual insurance market by helping pay for the most expensive enrollees.

And in weird science: An asthmatic otter sends a signal about the serious public health impact of this summer’s wildfires in the western U.S.

This week’s panelists for KHN’s “What the Health?” are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Joanne Kenen of Politico, Alice Ollstein of Talking Points Memo and Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times.

This is your last chance to send questions for next week’s “ask us anything” episode. You can email us at

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

• One provision of the HHS funding bill that is getting attention is the effort to require drugmakers to add their prices to any advertisements. President Donald Trump is pushing for this, and it could be popular politically. But since consumers pay different prices depending on a variety of factors, including their insurance and the source of drugs, it isn’t clear how impactful such a law would be.

• The announcement this week by federal authorities that an estimated 72,000 people had died of drug overdoses — 49,000 of them as a result of opioids — has spurred interest on Capitol Hill for legislation to help fight the opioid epidemic. Bills that had been expected to move after the election could now see a faster track to voting.

• Consumers are reporting a shortage in EpiPens, the prescription drug and self-injector that can prevent death from a lethal allergy. The FDA has agreed with the EpiPen maker to extend the expiration date to ease the shortage. The FDA also approved a generic version of the EpiPen, but that is unlikely to lower costs anytime soon. Generics often don’t have much impact on pricing until there are several generic options available.

• The announcement by New York University’s medical school that it will provide free tuition to all students sent a shock wave through the academic community. Although it appears to be a great strategy to attract students, it’s unclear whether it will encourage more new doctors to choose primary care rather than higher-paying specialties. Doctors do come out of school with high debt levels, but most studies show that they also have high salaries and pay off those debts within 10 years.

Plus, for “extra credit,” the panelists recommend their favorite health stories of the week they think you should read, too:

Julie Rovner: NPR’s “NYU’s Move To Make Medical School Free For All Gets Mixed Reviews,” by Julie Rovner

Joanne Kenen: Politico’s “Lax State Ethics Rules Leave Health Agencies Vulnerable to Conflicts,” by Brianna Ehley, Sarah Karlin-Smith, Rachana Pradhan and Jennifer Haberkorn

Alice Ollstein: The New York Times’ “Vitamin D, the Sunshine Supplement, Has Shadowy Money Behind It,” by Liz Szabo

Margot Sanger-Katz: The Wall Street Journal’s “What Does Knee Surgery Cost? Few Know, and That’s a Problem,” by Melanie Evans

To hear all our podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to What the Health? on iTunesStitcher or Google Play.

Related Topics

Cost and Quality Elections Health Industry Insurance Multimedia Pharmaceuticals Public Health States